Tuesday, November 8, 2011

State cabinet loses another open records lawsuit

The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services came under a withering attack from a state judge, who said the cabinet turned a blind eye to repeated reports a nine-year-old girl was being abused at home.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled Nov. 7 the cabinet must release its records involving Amythz Dye, a nine-year-old who, according to court records, was beaten to death by her adoptive brother. Garrett Dye, 17, pleaded guilty on Oct. 21 in Todd Circuit Court to murdering her on Feb. 4 by beating her in the head with a jack handle. When she was killed, Amythz was shoveling gravel as punishment for stealing pudding and juice from a friend’s lunch box at school, according to Shepherd’s order.

Garrett Dye, who was prosecuted as an adult, will be sentenced Nov. 23.

"This case presents a tragic example of the potentially deadly consequences of a child welfare system that has completely insulated itself from meaningful public scrutiny," Judge Shepherd wrote. In his decision, he notes the cabinet received eight reports that the girl had suffered injuries that were suspicious.

"In this case, an innocent nine-year-old girl was brutally beaten to death after enduring months of physical and emotional abuse in a home approved by the Commonwealth of Kentucky for her adoption, notwithstanding a substantiated incident of child abuse in that home prior to her placement there and notwithstanding repeated reports of abuse and neglect later made by school officials to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services prior to her murder."

It is the third time, the second in four days, that Judge Shepherd has ruled for public inspection of documents involving the death of children under the supervision of the cabinet. In all three cases, the cabinet had refused open records requests for the records, arguing federal law required it to maintain confidential records.

But Judge Shepherd ruled, citing congressional records, that the federal legislature never intended to allow state governments to protect their actions from public scrutiny in such cases.

“The Open Records Act is the only method available by which the public and the legislature can obtain information regarding the systematic breakdown of our child protective services that contributed so directly to this child’s death,” Shepherd wrote.

The lawsuit was filed by the Todd County Standard. The weekly newspaper sought records which the cabinet initially indicated did not exist. For the paper's story, click here. The Courier-Journal's story is here.

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